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Joint Attention for Autistic Learners

By Rosemarie Griffin

Joint attention is a super powerful foundational tool for working with autistic learners. Foundational communication must be explicitly taught to our autistic learners and joint attention is a way to successfully encourage growth in communication in a fun and exciting way. Our preschool age autistic learners will not only enjoy joint attention activities, but show huge strides in language from engaging in these great activities! What is joint attention? Joint attention can be boiled down to shared activities! Joint attention for autisic learners is an incredibly useful tool that could easily be used today!

Connections Before Communication 

Joint attention is all about building connections through shared activities. Simply sharing in specific activities is an incredible way to build those connections.  Connections must come before communication. Building a rapport with a child is exceptionally important. Our autistic learners must feel comfortable enjoying time with you to allow them to be open to learn and the activities absolutely cannot be forced. When it comes to joint attention, autistic learners will come to enjoy your time together and from there the engagement will begin to soar. 

Benefits of Joint Attention

Not only does joint attention build rapport and connections, but the ultimate goal is growth and joint attention will get our autistic learners to grow in their communication. Through joint attention activities, autistic learners will learn social reciprocity, foundational communication skills like taking turns, and receptive and expressive language. The growth that our autistic learners show from joint attention is tremendous and joint attention activities are easy to use! 

Joint Attention Activities- Bring on the Books!

When working with any autistic learner, books are huge. When working with preschool, autistic learners, the rich language in books is the perfect opportunity to build language opportunities. There are some great choices for books with bold colors, pictures, repetition and even some songs! Using books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Pete the Cat, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar are excellent choices for joint attention. Reading in an energetic voice, pointing, labeling, using expectant pauses, and engaging the child in the book with you is such a fun experience. Joint attention really is about having fun while learning together. Using books together is also a great way to help children communicate with sign language, AAC devices, or just pointing! 

Sing your Heart Out!

Of course singing together is such a true joint attention opportunity. Think about singing Old MacDonald and doing the animal sounds together or engaging your autistic learners with your high energy. Pair this with some farm animal toys and really have some fun! The Wheels on the Bus and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes are both other great ones to sing and act out with the hand gestures!

Play! Play! Play!

Joint attention should be fun for everyone. Our autisitc learners should absolutely be learning communication through play! Try bringing a car track with a couple of cars to engage in joint attention play. Never take a car away from a learner. Instead bring enough cars for you to have one and for the child to have one. Remember we are always a giver and not a taker! You can leave a few cars out for the child and let them choose, or if you are working in acceptance, then a car would be a great opportunity to practice accepting the car. Once you are sharing turns on the car track, bring in some car sounds like vroooom or weeee! 

Use a shape sorter for another simple, but powerful idea for using joint attention and play. Work on requesting shapes, taking turns, labeling, or identifying shapes. Sometimes shape sorters can be overwhelming. Remember it is never the goal to overwhelm. If it becomes overwhelming,  just show them where the shapes belong! 

You could also bring in some bubbles and cars or puzzles and cars together. The options are endless for joint attention. 

Building rapport and foundational communication skills for preschool, autistic learners is a huge goal. Joint attention can be such a phenomenal tool in your tool box that you could be using right now! Grab some bubbles and some farm animals and get to playing! Shared activities are incredibly powerful for autistic learners. Joint attention can build communication and rapport! Try it today!


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